Cervical Cancer: Understanding the Basics

Updated: Jan 21

This month has been focused on Mom Maintenance, and we’ve been discussing all things related to your reproductive health. Did you know that January is Cervical Health Awareness Month? This week (January 18-24th) is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. This blog focuses on an important women’s health issue - cervical cancer.


When it comes to cervical cancer, prevention is the key to avoiding delayed diagnosis and poor prognosis. We hope that this blog will bring more awareness and understanding around this disease, and help you understand the importance of routine annual visits. When it comes to routine healthcare, most moms report that their health needs get put on the backburner to meet the needs of their family. We want you to know that we understand this burden but we hope we can empower you to realize that you are important too! Taking care of your needs is important for you, for your loved ones, and all who care about you.


DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be all-encompassing and should not replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.


Cervical cancer - Understanding the basics

Cancer is a group of diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth. Cervical cancer refers to cancer of the cervix, which is part of the female reproductive system. It is a region of the body that connects the vagina to the upper portion of the uterus. The cervix is 2-4cm length and cylindrical in shape. After sexual intercourse, sperm must travel through this area to fertilize the egg located in the uterus.


Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, with approximately 570,000 women being diagnosed per year, and 311,00 women dying per year from the disease. Unfortunately, due to inadequate screening services, 85% of cervical cancer cases occur in low- and middle-income countries. In the United States, 30,700 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed per year. Cervical cancer develops in women who are in their reproductive years and is most commonly diagnosed in women in their 30s and 40s.


What are the Symptoms?

Early on, cervical cancer may not have any signs or symptoms. Advanced stages may lead to vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, dyspareunia (i.e., recurring pain in the genital or pelvic area during sex), and bleeding after sex.


[Illustration by Verywell]


To track possible symptoms of cervical cancer, use this symptom tracker over the course of 2 weeks.

Routine screening is critical to identify the early stages of cervical cancer.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - The virus that causes cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a DNA virus and is a VERY common sexually transmitted disease. The HPV virus is associated with 99.7% of all cervical cancers. It is also primarily responsible for anal cancer and vulvar and vaginal cancers. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Recent data shows that almost 80 million Americans (mostly 20-30’s) are infected with HPV. The infection most likely occurs in regions including the mouth, throat, penis, cervix, vulva, vagina, or anus - depending on the point of contact. Certain risk factors are associated with more severe HPV infection including early age of first sexual intercourse, multiple sexual partners, using birth control for an extended period of time (5 or more years), giving birth to 3 or more children, smoking, and poor immune functioning.


#SmearForSmear - The importance of routine cervical cancer screening

Routine screening is critical to identify the early stages of cervical cancer. The pap smear and HPV testing are commonly used for the screening of cervical cancer. Beginning at the age of 21, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends that you get screened for cervical cancer. The Pap smear will identify precancerous changes on the cervix that might develop into cervical cancer if not properly treated.


For more information stay tuned for our blog Cervical Cancer: Prevention through Paps


Treatment:

The treatment for cervical cancers depends on the stage (or progression) of disease. Treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.


[Illustration by Singing River Health System]


Delayed diagnosis leads to poor treatment outcomes, therefore, screening is crucial. Importantly, the implementation of such routine screenings will lead to fewer deaths from cervical cancer. The #SmearForSmear campaign is to highlight the importance of cervical cancer screening. Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is happening this January 18-24. Find out how to get involved HERE.

If you have limited resources or do not have health insurance, you may be eligible for cervical cancer screening through the CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). You can find out if you are eligible for such programs HERE.


For further information, check out the following resources:

If you missed our earlier blog, check out the Top 10 Things to Know Before Going to Your Gyno.


Please follow and continue learning more about your body over the next few months as we target each “Lady Part”!

If you have topics or specific questions about your reproductive organs, please email huddleupmoms@gmail and we will do our best to incorporate your questions into our blogs/content.

Written by Julia C. Basso, PhD

Julia is a wearer of many hats. She is the Director of Research & Content Development. She is a neuroscientist at Virginia Tech working in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise as well as a teacher and practitioner of dance and yoga. She is also the proud mama of Juliette and Holden and a wife of a mad scientist. She is fascinated by the brain's capacity for plasticity and the body's ability to shape the brain. Her research centers around understanding how physical activity and mindfulness practices affect the brain functionally, physiologically, and morphologically. She understands both scientifically and personally that pregnancy and the postpartum period (and motherhood in general) are a time of significant change in a woman's life, and she is enthusiastic about being a part of Huddle Up Moms to help women successfully navigate their motherhood journeys.


You can learn more about Julia here.


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